All good things must come to an end, and for the Milwaukee Bucks, it’s time to stop celebrating the 2021 NBA title. Tonight, a much taller task awaits them: repeat. Plenty of teams have climbed the mountaintop and descended just as quickly; staying at the top when all 29 other contenders are trying to knock you off is a whole different game. And tonight, the most significant challenger in the East comes to town looking to get a leg up on the Bucks. The Brooklyn Nets think they should have what the Bucks took last postseason. How will the Bucks start their title defense?
I don’t know, but I’m thrilled to find out. Basketball is back!
Where We’re At
Enough about the 2021 Eastern Conference Semifinals. That was then, and this is now, and the Bucks are in much different shape. With the newly extended Grayson Allen joining the starting lineup, Milwaukee still boasts a strong defensive unit that can space the floor around Giannis Antetokounmpo, a formula for which no team could fully solve last season (or…y’know, ever.) However, they are far from full-strength to start the season, as Bobby Portis, Semi Ojeleye, Rodney Hood, and Donte DiVincenzo are all out with various injuries.
As expected, the Bucks list Rodney Hood (foot), Bobby Portis (hamstring), Semi Ojeleye (calf) and Donte DiVincenzo (ankle) out for opening night against Brooklyn, while Kyrie Irving (not with team) is out for the Nets.— Kane Pitman (@KanePitman) October 18, 2021
Sandro Mamukelashvili is the back up big for Milwaukee.
Then again, Milwaukee didn’t have Donte after the Miami series, and Bobby was pulled from the rotation, so it could be argued that their absence will be felt less tonight…but that’s getting stuck in the past again, dammit! Eyes ahead.
Since the preseason was largely used as the Jordan Nwora show, Milwaukee used their main contributors sparingly during the exhibition games, but every minute of playing time we did see from Giannis, Allen, Brook Lopez, Jrue Holiday, and Khris Middleton indicated that they’re ready to go. It will be fantastic to see them get one last bit of recognition as the banner gets raised to the rafters, and hopefully it doesn’t pull too much attention away from the game at hand.
Speaking of attention, plenty (and more) of it has been paid to the Brooklyn Nets this offseason, even some for reasons independent of the league’s vaccination protocol! They were a favorite to make the NBA Finals last year, and are once again a favorite for this season. They may be without Kyrie Irving, but a retooled roster surrounds Kevin Durant and James Harden, both of whom are healthy and motivated for another chance at getting past Milwaukee.
But if we’re being honest about Brooklyn, there are plenty of questions. Does the whole Kyrie Thing cast a shadow over the Nets’ on-court efforts and undermine the teams’ chemistry? Is the reliance on seasoned veterans like the returning Blake Griffin, the unretired LaMarcus Aldridge, and newcomers Paul Millsap, James Johnson, and Patty Mills putting too much weight on uncertain ground? Can Brooklyn really score their way out of limited wing depth and virtually zero rim protection? You can absolutely win 50 games with these questions lingering…but what about a seven game series? That remains to be seen, but Brooklyn is also only trying to win one game tonight.
Player To Watch
Most eyes will turn towards Kevin Durant, but my interest is squarely on James Harden. We’ve already seen what a fully operational KD can do against the best the Bucks can offer (and it is terrifying), but the Beard was far from 100% the last time we saw him. With that hamstring injury behind him (get it?!) and Irving unavailable, what sort of problems does the Durant-Harden duo pose, and how will the Bucks attempt to solve them?
Game 1: Against Brooklyn, the Bucks will…
This poll is closed
Win big (by 10 or more points)
Win close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose big (by 10 or more points)